23 February 2008

Who Wrote the Book of John?

The theme for Lent this year has been sanctuary. I have found it just about everywhere I look in my Bible study, and I have found my Lenten readings of the Book of John to be infused with temple imagery.

In a previous post, I noted how God "tabernacled among us." As I moved into John 2, the tabernacle/temple was there again, where Jesus cleanses the temple of money lenders.

Why does the author John place this story at the beginning of Christ's ministry when the other three gospels place it in the middle of Passion Week? Is he more concerned with poetry than with accuracy--as one might be led to believe from chapter 1? What is this author really trying to say?

The Book of John was written well after the synoptic gospels were written--as many as 30 years by some estimates. The 4th-century church historian, Eusebius, states that the author had read the other three by then, and he offered his gospel to enhance and elaborate upon the themes of the synoptics.

If Eusebius is right--and I think most readers would agree that John has a more carefully developed theology and more rational development to its insights--then the author placed this story here for a purpose, not necessarily for a straight retelling of the Jesus story. Figuring out the reason the story is here, then, will help us to understand more about what the author of John really got from his time with Jesus.

The incident retold in John takes place just before the passover. Jerusalem's tourist industry is working all out, and the most lucrative place to sell to pilgrims has to be the vast temple courts. No doubt priests have been bribed for these prime spots, and now pilgrims must cope with the din of trading to make their prayers.

Into this fray, Jesus charges with righteous indignation, turning over tables, opening pigeon coops, and shouting, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (v 16, NIV). The author approves of this, tying it to a text beloved by Jewish nationalists, "Zeal for your house will consume me" (Psalm 69.9).

It's almost as if he is saying, "You see? This is the one. This Jesus knows what it's all about." But it is important to note that this isn't the political blindness of disciples related by Mark and Matthew. The author has had time to think about this. That's why he adds verses 17-22.

The Jews want a sign (so far Jesus is known for a miracle that brought wine to a wedding). Jesus says he can "destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."

In this chapter he has cleansed the temple; now he says he can destroy it and raise it up. The Jews react with typical blindness. They are literalists--like Nicodemus in the following chapter, they cannot imagine things they cannot see, and they are woefully unprepared to discern when the Spirit will be unleashed by Jesus following his Ascension.

The temple is Jesus' spirit, which will rest for three days before being resurrected. The temple becomes our spirit, too, as Paul relates later in the New Testament. In many ways, the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple is repeated in John 3 (in a far more memorable and understandable way) through the image of death and rebirth.

I think that's what the author of John wants us to gain from Chapter 2. It's about the Temple, but it's more than that. It's really about us--about me. Jesus cleansed the temple of a rabble of sellers and possessions--he offers cleansing to the desires and trivialities that distract my spirit when it seeks communion. He promises to tear down the temple and rebuild it--just as he offers to tear apart the house of cards in which I take pride and replace it with a life of worship, built on a solid foundation.

From the beginning of John, God is looking for a place to tabernacle. It is clear, beginning with chapters 2 and 3, that believers are the very buildings in which He hopes to dwell. The Temple in Jerusalem was a beautiful place, no doubt loved by the Jews and protected by them against a radical like Jesus, whom they mistakenly feared would tear the place down.

Jesus had different temples in mind--as different methods of destruction. His Spirit was waiting--like the pillar of fire in the Exodus--to tabernacle with the Kingdom of Heaven he had come to create.

Now to the question I pose in my title. Who wrote the Book of John? As most know, he only identifies himself as "the one Jesus loved."

The author is based in Jerusalem. Most of the book chronicles interactions Jesus had over a series of visits to the Jewish capital (the synoptics imply that Jesus only visited Jerusalem in the week prior to his death). Bethany also features in this book, with Jesus' visits to Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

The author is immersed in temple. He uses temple connections to get a front-row view of Christ's trial for himself and Peter. He fills his gospel with hidden allusions to temple, as I have demonstrated above.

Could this be a fisherman from Galilee as the son of Zebedee was? I think it is unlikely. One theologian I read, Ben Witherington III, speculated that the author was Lazarus, who may have later went to Ephesus, where he shared his story with an editor, John the Revelator.

Personally, I would vote for Barnabas, who was Jesus' disciple, a Cypriot Jew, and traditionally held to be the owner of the Upper Room, from which so much detail can be found in chapters 13-17. Furthermore, his role in Christianity's incorporation of gentiles, shows that he must have been effective at explaining Christ's mission to infant Christians.

Let me know what you think!


Stephen McNulty said...

You should be a preacher or some big time book author. That would make a great sermon. I liked the post about U2 as well. I have to see that 3D movie that U2 has right now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the world through this blog. Very Shakespearean I might add.

Anonymous said...

i tink your right on brother i think barsbas also assisted paul in writeinf the book of hebrews

Anonymous said...

If the author of the book of John is identified as the one whom Jesus loved, please see John 11:3. Lazarus is clearly identified here as the one whom was loved by Jesus and is the ONLY inference in all of scripture directly relating the "one whom Jesus loved" to a specific individual. I don't think that it is a great big mysery that Lazarus is the author.

I just can't understand why so many scholars, pastors, etc. got this wrong. I think that it just goes to show you that so many people don't think or read for themselves.

Anonymous said...

The Scriptures Show Who Jesus Loved!
The Two Written In Scripture Are Mary Magdalene And Lazarus!

Joh 20:2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

The One Who Runneth Was Magdalene.
The Other Disciple Was Lazarus.

Joh 19:26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

This Disciple Whom Jesus Loved Was Mary Magdalene!

Therefore, The Writer, Of The Book Of John, Was Mary Magdalene!

Joh 21:20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?
Joh 21:21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
Joh 21:22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.
Joh 21:23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
Joh 21:24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.

Let The Scriptures Interpret Scriptures!

Be Blessed


Anonymous said...

i love the fact that this is even a topic because 200 years ago we would have been burnt at the stake for talk like this! i agree that Lazarus wrote john. i originally thought that it was joseph of arimathea because if you look at french tradition (see john w. taylor's "the coming of the saints") after the slaying of James, St. Mary wife of Clopas,Salome,Mary Magdalene,Martha,and their maid Marcella were put into a boat on the coast of Palestine. the men with them were Lazarus,joseph of arimathea,trophimius,maximin,cleon,eutropius,sidonius(the man born blind Jn 9:1),martial,and saturnius. the apocryphal Acts of Magdalen, of Life of St.Mary Magdalene confirms this story. Joseph was called by the brittish historian Gildas Baldonicus(516-570) "nobilis decurio." this implies he had importance to or as Roman management generally in charge of rome's mining interests. other traditions also show that Joseph of Arimathea was a tin merchant who had visited Brittain frequently. seeing as how the Romans were behind the crucifixion Joseph had reason to stay incognito(see Jn 19:38)Tertullian(160-230)shows that regions of Spain,Gaal,and Brittain that hadn't been penetrated by Roman arms had the religion of Christ. glastonbury was of the Brittish region that had escaped the conquest of Julius Caesar, thus being a safe haven. obviously i came to realize it was Lazarus and that Joseph of Arimathea was just the way out of the grasp of the Romans. thanks for seeking deeper truths and going against the grain of classic tradition.

JD said...

I appreciate these recent comments. I want to reiterate that it doesn't matter so much to me who wrote the book as whom the book is about, Jesus Christ.

Joseph of Arimethea, IMO, gets blown out of proportion by French and British mythmakers. I just haven't seen any mention of him following Christ's burial and resurrection that wasn't from the Middle Ages. I'm open to correction on that.

Lazarus is a better candidate, but he lived in Bethany, not Jerusalem, so it's hard to imagine that his house would have been home to the Last Supper.

Mary Magdalene is also a tantalizing prospect. I hate to be sexist here, but the lack of any female-written early Christian literature would count her out, wouldn't it?